Let’s not wait for the next government. We can work out the solutions.
“What will Modi do?” At every meeting, in particular of investors, that is the question. No one knows, to paraphrase the great philosopher, but many will tell you!
Even if Modi were not there, and even if everything that we need to know about him were known, the same question would be making the rounds. For, it does what we want done: it shifts responsibility on to someone other than us — in this case, Modi and the civil servants that he may choose. On the one hand, we declare, “The government structure is moribund. It just cannot come up with out-of-the-box, lateral solutions.” On the other, we ask, “What will government do?” In this, we are like the politicians: in one breath, they shout, “The CBI is the Congress Bureau of Investigation”; in the next, “We demand a CBI inquiry.”
Instead, we should take reforms into our own hands. Instead of waiting for Modi to come up with brilliant ideas, we should work out solutions. And we should work them out in detail. Our “solution” must not just be, “Do away with the subsidy on kerosene — everyone knows that subsidised kerosene is being used to adulterate diesel,” but what may be done instead. Shyam Saran gives a good example. He points to the experiment that the IOC launched in a part of Alwar district. Instead of giving kerosene at the subsidised price, the IOC calculated the amount of kerosene subsidy to which the BPL family was entitled, and transferred the amount to its bank account. The family was now to buy kerosene in the market. The result? Kerosene off-take went down by 40 per cent.
Working out solutions in detail is all the more important in this round — the new government will have only six weeks in which to prepare its budget. As the room for manoeuvre in regard to revenues and expenditures is very limited — what with the artificial ways in which the deficit figure was kept down — the only way for the budget to be a meaningful document, a document that will re-establish hope, is for it to furnish a roadmap for reforms. As with all governments on the way in, we can be reasonably sure that, one, this roadmap has not been worked out in the detail that is required; and, two, that the new government will need all the help it can get to lay it out in just six weeks. It is indeed a comment on our times that, till some years ago, organisations like FICCI and CII used to spell out proposals in detail continued…